SUNDANCE REVIEW – “CODA”
The coming-of-age genre is one that has been milked to death so many times over. But for some reason, its a genre that we continue to go back to time and time again. Maybe it’s because we can all relate to a certain point in our lives where we were on the cusp of being an adult, but not quite there yet – but had the choices that would pave the path for the next several years of our lives. Sian Heder’s CODA has all of those elements in tow and wears them proudly. But what makes it so different than any coming of age film I’ve seen is the subject matter underneath the sincere coming-of-age story.
In what is by far the best film I saw at the Sundance this year, CODA follows teenager Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) – the only member of her otherwise deaf family who can hear. She works on the family boat with her father and brother (Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant) each morning before riding her bike to school to face the rest of the day. On top of being busy with the family business, a small but significant social life with her friend Gerite (Amy Forsyth), she has to be the only interpreter for her family. Her father and mother (Marlee Matlin) stress this to her throughout the film, and it weighs so heavily on her that she believes she can’t go to college because her family needs her to stay behind. She’s pretty content and settled on that idea until she stumbles into her choir class, taught by Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez) and finds out that her passion for singing is a true gift that moves others. She’s faced with the ultimatum of following her passion for singing and getting a scholarship or being the person her family wants her to be.
Sincerity goes a long way, especially when you’re telling a somewhat familiar story. Even despite the fascinating representation and subject matter when it comes to portraying the deaf community in this film – CODA at every turn feels sincere and focused on the coming-of-age story it’s telling. It all feels extremely genuine and that is comes from a place of personal experience for writer/director Sian Heder. There are so many moments in this film that made me tear up, and the most lovely thing about it is that those moments didn’t feel like repetitive tear-jerker moments. They all felt completely natural to the progression of the characters and story. It all felt entirely earned.
I’m so endlessly impressed with how beautifully this film is composed. It’s not only one of the most emotionally investing and powerful films I’ve seen from Sundance in quite sometime, but it’s an equally romantic, funny, and entertaining crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word. All of the performances are excellent and support why it’s as good as it is, but Emilia Jones truly shines here with one of the best performances from a young actor that I’ve seen in quite sometime. Apple dropped quite a large sum of money to acquire the distribution rights for this, and I can absolutely see why. It’s a staggeringly intimate and thoughtful look into the life of this family. I loved every minute of this film and hope it finds the biggest audience possible later this year.